d a n i e l    b o r z u t z k y

The Shrinking Island


The invisible weight of the future is strapped to the wings of the bird trapped inside the gutter of the flat-roof on which the family of fourteen sleeps. The men who eat their own skin have prayed in such a way that the young girls of the island will have varicose veins by their tenth birthday. The rumbling of chemicals in my stomach is another sign that I belong to the tribe that does not belong. I could tell by looking at her face that she wasn’t fertile. I knew right away that her older brother had thrown her baby into the river. That everything I say is a question of voice is undermined by the movements of my body. I sink into myself more and more each time I open my mouth, she said, and I sink out of myself each time I close my mouth. Each time I speak, she said, I become a little bit more and a little bit less like myself. The filthiest word to the residents of the island is visible. They do not care for what they can see. They do not want to see what they can see. For four days I ran around the island looking for a view of nothing. I finally found one atop the noodle shop in the easternmost part of the easternmost province. The four-fingered man who owns the noodle shop brought tea and special glasses that turn the air the color of smoke. I was ecstatic. I wanted nothing more than to see nothing other than an island of dust and smoke.

The amount of fish in the water is dwindling. Those who survived the floods and chemical spills no longer have spines. To see a spineless fish floating in the ocean is to see all that is human about nature. At the kiosk outside the pharmacy that caters to foreigners, twenty-seven types of consolation are available for the low cost of misery or the high cost of happiness. Yesterday we walked for three hours and still did not find the type of cobblestone we were looking for. We did not want to go inside any churches or museums. We wanted to be outside with the people, searching for the sacred cobblestone. We searched the entire island for the beige pebbles that are said to bring good health when placed inside the mouth of the sick. Legend says a legless boy grew his legs back after swallowing a handful of beige pebbles and washing them down with tea made from lemon and rosehips. On a billboard, a primitive man with a bubble coming out of his mouth asks if Jesus died on a stake, a cross, or a tree. The museum in the underground torture chambers holds the answer to this question. We considered visiting the underground torture chambers but were afraid we would never want to ascend. Two tight-rope walkers walk the tight-rope that crosses the entire island. One walker starts on one side, the other starts on the other side. When they meet in the middle, they make love, orgasm, and die, so to speak, a quiet death, in the service of their god, their families, and their nation. To die in service of your nation is more honorable than to die in service of yourself. We spent the entire evening watching a woman blow butterflies out of her mouth while juggling a kitten, a cantaloupe and a water snake. We spent the entire day inside the cave that houses the pubic hair of the martyred soldiers. However, the parade of virgins was a total snore. The little boys hid inside the white dresses of the virgins and pretended to be birthed immaculately. Tennis, anyone?

When the enormous bucket brought us down to the bottom of the sacred well, she held my hand between her hands and told me that this was just like her childhood. Everything I like about myself is contained in the words I love you, she said, as she crawled into the sewer to search for the diaphragm she had hid the night before. On the shrinking island, they do not care for prophylactics. In 1983, a man had his penis removed for wrapping it in a condom. The condom-covered penis, preserved now in formaldehyde, is encased in glass in the private chambers of the judiciary, where it is seen only by movie stars and diplomats, who are said to take great pleasure in photographing it for their friends and families. For fourteen dollars and eighty-three cents, you can watch iguanas copulate at the zoo. For twenty-three dollars and thirty-eight cents, you can watch iguanas, squirrels, beavers, axolotls, and various sea creatures copulate in the private copulation chambers of the zoo. We paid full-price to watch the animals copulate at the zoo and we did not regret our decision. Afterwards, we went back to our hotel room, stripped off our clothes, made love, orgasmed, and died, so to speak, a quiet death, in the comfort of our insulating tendencies to fucking want to kill something. Behind the castle, throngs line up to watch cats chase rabbits. The interconnectedness of everything and nothing rings truer each time you tell me I have an awful sense of direction. Everything I like about myself has already happened, she said, as she watched the shaman set himself on fire. As night fell, we sat in the rain eating pastries in the sacred garden of silence. When the sun appeared, the flowers flew away.



DANIEL BORZUTZKY is the author of Arbitrary Tales (Triple Press, 2005). His poetry, fiction, and translations from Spanish have appeared in many print and online journals. Recent work appears in Chicago Review, Coconut, Kulture Vulture, Word For/Word, Golden Handcuffs Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, and elsewhere; recent translations appear in Conjunctions, Fence, and on city buses in Los Angeles.